Talking to a friend about their mental health can be hard. There may be concerns that you’re blowing a problem out of proportion or worry that you’re being too nosy about their business. However, research has shown that 76% of young adults will reach out to a peer first during a time of crisis. It’s critical that we overcome these feelings of discomfort and make conversations about mental health a priority.
One campaign is leaning full force into this awkwardness. The result of a partnership between the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), The Jed Foundation (JED), and the Ad Council, the “Seize the Awkward” campaign aims to empower young people with the skills to talk to friends about their mental health. Crisis Text Line has served as one of the official resources for the campaign, with those in crisis being able to text the keyword SEIZE to 741741 to talk with a trained Crisis Counselor.
The campaign aims to help fill a gap in the conversation around suicide. “Suicide prevention is increasingly gaining awareness and attention in the national media, but Seize the Awkward marks the start of a collective movement to empower this generation to do something,” says Lisa Sherman, President and CEO of the Ad Council. “This campaign gives young adults the tools and specific language they need to embrace the critical moment of an awkward silence in a way that could have a life-saving impact.”
Since its launch, the Seize the Awkward campaign has garnered over 7.5 million video views and over 87,000 sessions on their website. With exposure via posters, a series of excellent videos featuring prominent YouTube influencers, and a whole group of exciting new partnerships rolling out throughout September for Suicide Prevention Month, the campaign is finding new ways to bring people closer to talking to their friends about mental health.
Our texters are worried about their friends.
We see this at Crisis Text Line too. Friendship is a huge motivator when it comes to reaching out. We see more conversations coming from texters who are worried about a friend than we do about eating disorders, gender/sexual identity, or substance abuse. These texters also experience their own feelings of anxiety and depression as they try to figure out how to best support someone in their life. Friendship is powerful– when it’s at it’s strongest, it can help support people through time times. However, when friendship support falters, it can exacerbate feelings of isolation and despair. In order to create space for real conversations and get young adults to intervene at critical moments, we need to be more vulnerable in our friendships.
How to Talk to a Friend
Young adults are ready to crack open the cultural conversation about mental health, but many feel that they’re missing the language to do so. So where to start? Here are some tips from Seize the Awkward on how to start the conversation:
- Keep it chill. This isn’t a formal interview. This is just you checking in on your friend. Start the conversation by focusing on something you’ve been feeling recently. For example, “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been acting like yourself recently; are you doing ok?” Rooting it in your own feelings shows that you care about how they’re doing and gives them the chance to address a specific concern.
- Let them know that it’s ok to feel the way that they do. Let your friend know that their feelings aren’t “weird” or “wrong”. This helps tear down the stigma of not being able to talk about “bad” feelings. Knowing that they have someone who is willing to talk to them about their feelings will also make them more likely to open up in the future.
- Don’t demand answers. Your friend may not know how to express what they’re feeling right now. Don’t pressure them into the conversation if they’re not ready to have it. Sometimes knowing that there’s someone there to listen can make an incredible difference.
- Encourage them to see a professional if necessary. Mental health is just as much a part of our health as physical health is. You are their friend who cares and wants to listen, but you’re not a trained professional. Suggest that your friend see a doctor or therapist if they need longer term support. Offer to help them find a medical professional if that thought seems too overwhelming.
Real friends open up first. By expressing more vulnerability, friends can create safer and more trusted spaces for conversations about mental health. Learn how you can #SeizeTheAwkward at seizetheawkward.org and @seizetheawkard on Instagram.